Queer la Queer: From Illogical Dedication to Misappropriation

Kill la Kill is one of those rare series that has delivered just about everything I could possibly want in a story and then some. It has impressed me so much that I actively analyzed and took notes on it as I watched/re-watched, which honestly hasn’t happened for me before. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a series of Kill la Kill articles focusing on queerness, religion, coming of age as a girl, and oppression. Most of my analyses are just my own thoughts plus the show. Today’s theme, post 1 of 4, is queerness.


 

Queerness, and romance in general, are not the central focus of Kill la Kill. All of the main characters are far more concerned with their world-changing goals to spare any time for romantic involvement. That being said, a handful of characters show some levels of overt queerness (though technically, the entire cast could be queer as assuming straightness as the default is heteronormative).

Kill la Kill treats queerness as a very natural part of the world and the characters. It’s so natural to them that it’s not something they ever dwell on or obsess over; they simply act on it or accept it in the ways that suit their characters. Queerness has several different manifestations depending on the other qualities it’s tied to, qualities that other aspects of each character’s personality bring to it. Not all of these manifestations are positive (see rainbow trash mom Ragyo), but together they present a queerness that goes deeper than cutesy high school romance (which wouldn’t fit into KLK very well anyway).

 

Ryuko x Mako: Illogical, Nonsensical Dedication

Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 11.52.43 PMThis is perhaps the most positive, consensual, and healthy expression of queerness in the show and it’s the one that’s given the most attention. Much of it is due to Mako’s unapologetic personality. She’s a ditz who is simultaneously stubborn and sweet and whose idiocy only adds to her willpower and perseverance. What would Kill la Kill be without strong-willed characters? Mako has nothing to be embarrassed about, so she has nothing to hide, even if those with more sense would try being discreet. When it comes to Ryuko, Mako makes up her mind from the moment her family adopts Ryuko. Mako shows nothing but undying affection as well as unapologetic attraction. Early on in the series, Mako is right there with the crowd of generic male students ogling over Ryuko in her transformed Kamui getup. She thinks Ryuko has a nice rack and nosebleeds when she sees it.

More seriously, Mako seems to find some sense of herself and reality in Ryuko. In episode 7, when Mako gets her two-star uniform and becomes the Fight Club president (cue every joke ever about Fight Club), she actually replaces Ryuko as her stronghold with the wealth and comfort her family now lives in thanks to her performance at school. The fear of being poor again is enough to make her fight desperately to keep her position, and who can blame her in a society with such extreme and arbitrary class divisions? Yet Ryuko, who’s doing all of the work to make Fight Club successful, reaches her limit. No amount of money will replace the family dinners she misses so much or the feeling that she actually has a family. This divide leads to a fight between the two and Ryuko, choosing friendship over victory, simply lets Mako beat her up for a long, long time. At length, all Ryuko needs to do is smile and Mako finally remembers that Ryuko is her anchor, not social standing. She makes the illogical decision to choose Ryuko over comfort. This choice is illogical not because it’s foolish, but because it goes against protecting a better means of living. However, by refusing to fight for the comforts afforded by an unequal and oppressive social system, Mako’s return to Ryuko is one of many hints at the way illogic and nonsense defeat evil (not to mention that Ryuko herself embodies standing against the status quo). “Right next to you is the safest place!” says Mako to Ryuko in episode 15 as Osaka is exploding around them. She consistently chooses Ryuko over self-preservation no matter how dangerous the circumstances.

For Ryuko, the feeling is mutual, although she doesn’t fully understand what she feels for Mako, nor does she have much time to explore it. Very late in the series, she admits that Mako and Senketsu are more than just friends to her, but beyond that she has no other language to identify her feelings. However, Senketsu immediately notices the effect that Mako has on Ryuko. Jumping back toward the beginning of the show, Senketsu states “Your heart rate and pulse have returned to normal. So, she is the key to getting you to relax, right?” In context, this relaxing effect saves Ryuko and enables her to fight longer, or at least not pass out. Mako is the only one who can reach Ryuko’s heart and seems to be the only person who will make Ryuko stop in her tracks no matter what happens.

This idea of Mako being the only thing that calms Ryuko peaks in two events: when Ryuko is completely consumed by Senketsu in the first arc and when she is completely consumed by Junketsu in the second arc. “When I was drunk on power,” Mako says to Ryuko when Senketsu has taken over her, “you were the one who brought me to my senses and now it’s my turn.” Mako knows that Ryuko would never hurt her and may even know just how much she affects Ryuko. Again, this is either a sign of lucky idiocy or the nonsensical dedication that ultimately overthrows the kind of one-cloth world that Ragyo aims to create. This is highlighted again when Ryuko is wearing Junketsu and has no control over her actions.

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I say that she has no control here because Junketsu was forced upon her and now the actual Ryuko is deep in this false state of bliss that wearing Junketsu creates. In this state, she’s given the family she always wanted and the visions of her life follow a very logical/ideal pattern: two supportive parents, a normal life at school, and growing up to get married. These visions are free of the pain she has felt at losing her father, not having a real family, and living in a world where she is constantly angry and fighting. However, these visions are nothing more than a blatant escapism from reality. Ryuko may feel blissful and at peace, but in reality she is being used and abused by Junketsu and Ragyo and has lost all sense of herself. So deep is she is this cesspool that, on the outside, she fights desperately to defend it and the false bliss conveniently masks the abuse that she is actually experiencing, making it impossible for her to break the illusion for herself.

Mako, of course, immediately sees that this is not the Ryuko she knows and without hesitation, she does everything she can to bring Ryuko back. Remember that Mako is consistently the one person who has any sort of immediate calming effect on Ryuko, but when Mako breaks into Ryuko’s wedding dream, it seems hopeless as even the internal Ryuko will do everything she can to defend this dream despite the fact that her spouse-to-be is a headless Cover, not even a real person. However, with a bit of sacrifice from Senketsu, Mako is finally able to make Ryuko wake up and return to the nonsensical reality. This reality may be broken, but Mako is there and Ryuko has freedom in the chaos.

I’ll come back to this scene in other posts, but what I want to highlight here is how the love between Ryuko and Mako undermines the various oppressive powers they encounter. Ryuko’s blissful visions can be seen as subtly heteronormative in that she appears to be marrying a man. Heteronormativity is a piece of this logical, carefree life pattern that wearing Junketsu presents to her, but it is gray scaled/sepia toned and it is simply not Ryuko’s reality. Mako becomes a reminder of this and calls Ryuko back to freedom in a world that doesn’t make sense. In a way, this is a “coming out” for Ryuko as her relationship with Mako restores her sense of self. The bliss of wearing life fibers, as Satsuki observes, is the bliss of slavery. It distracts the wearer with images of complacency while it perpetuates evils unnoticed. This is one example of how systematic oppression works: fabricate comfortable patterns for existence to quell resistance and keep the evils of abuse in the shadows.

Mako and Ryuko are each other’s anchors and peace. Before the very last battle with Ragyo, Mako blatantly asks Ryuko on a date when she returns and Ryuko accepts without hesitation. Though this is also one of Kill la Kill’s many, many examples of exaggerating every possible anime trope ever, it is also an example of how Ryuko and Mako have found stability in their relationship and will fight for a world where such a relationship can exist in freedom. These two are undeniably queer and undeniably canon. It is one of the prime examples of how radical, illogical, and nonsensical love overcomes oppressive systems.

 **NOTE: Read the comments between R and I for an argument that Ryumako is not healthy**

Nui x Ryuko: Fascination and Desire for Control

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From the moment Nui arrives on the scene, the entire plot of Kill la Kill begins to unravel. Despite being the Grand Couturier whose task is to sew things together, she actually makes things fall apart for both Ryuko and Satsuki. Nui’s playful personality combined with her lack of concern for consequences make her a catalyst for Ryuko’s loss of control. From the start, Nui is enamored with Ryuko. Though her infatuation may seem steeped with sarcasm at first, or just a ruse to get under Ryuko’s skin, I think it’s actually genuine, especially since she never really stops hitting on Ryuko every chance she gets.

However, Nui, being born directly from the original life fiber and completely in line with Ragyo’s goals, is largely interested in control and manipulation. Her feelings for Ryuko are real and she wants Ryuko for herself. How does she ensure that she “gets the girl” while simultaneously eliminating an obstacle for Ragyo? By threading Junketsu to Ryuko and thereby forcing Junketsu onto her. With this done, Ryuko is technically under Nui’s control and is incapable of repelling Nui. Nothing that Nui and Ragyo do to Ryuko while she’s wearing Junketsu is consensual. By extension, nothing that Ryuko does or says is truly coming from her own self or her own will. In this part of the story, Ryuko has no agency. She may feel bliss and pleasure, but it’s a deceptive mask of reality. Even the orgy scene at the beginning of episode 21 shows that Ryuko is stunned more than anything. While Ragyo and Nui are free to move around, Ryuko is tied up by red threads, showing that both of them have completely subjugated her. Ryuko’s kiss with Nui, in my opinion, is another instance of this control, even though it seems to surprise Nui. Though Nui may not have expected the kiss, it’s still something that happened because she tied Junketsu to Ryuko–because of her (and Ragyo’s) desire to control her.

Alternatively, the kiss could be an instance of Ryuko’s will overcoming what’s happening to her, even if just for a brief moment. She most definitely forces the kiss on Nui. She grabs Nui’s collar and pulls her close before Nui even has a chance to react. Though Ryuko is not at all in her right mind, there could be something subconscious that’s enacting payback for forcing Junketsu onto her.

There are many ways to interpret the relationship between these two, but one thing is expressly clear: no matter the reasons, the end goal is dominance over the other. It’s mostly Nui who wants to dominate Ryuko and perhaps leave Ryuko no choice but to attempt giving her a taste of her own medicine. Here, queerness becomes corrupted into a manipulative power. Nui choses to act on her crush, which is harmless and not problematic at all, by forcing Ryuko into a Kamui–and a mindset–that’s more suitable to her desires.

 

Ragyo x Satsuki, Ryuko, and Nui

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Calling Ragyo “queer” is a stretch to me largely because I think she uses sex as power and is not necessarily “in love” with her daughters, which is why I’m only talking about her a little bit here. Furthermore, I have to be very careful not to suggest that queerness, incest, and sexual abuse are one in the same because they are most certainly not (as we see in healthy queer relationships like Ryuko and Mako). However, her actions are such a vital part of the story that I can’t ignore discussing them. In my opinion, Ragyo is the ultimate misappropriator: she takes things that are good or neutral (e.g., clothes, sex, theology) and misuses them to achieve her agenda of silence (via Life Fibers), domination, and submission to her will. She twists the story of Genesis 3 to suit the purpose of her giant corporation (which I will discuss more in depth in a separate post). Similarly, she takes rainbows (a sign of pride in the LGBT+ community as well as a symbol of God’s promise not to flood the Earth again in the Old Testament) and associates them with her abuse, her will for silence, and her ruthlessness–things that rainbows were not meant to symbolize.

In terms of rainbows being a queer symbol, Ragyo takes what should be a sign of love and makes it a sign of her manipulation and corporate agenda, which is really tied to her world domination agenda. She exaggerates and abuses this aesthetic just as she abuses Satsuki and Ryuko.

Nui seems to be the only one who enjoys/consents to sex with Ragyo, although Ragyo even uses her as a tool in the end and Nui gladly kills herself (sort of) at Ragyo’s command without hesitation. Is Nui really as independent and willful as she seems, or does Ragyo have complete control over her as well? I don’t think there’s a clear answer here.

What I do think is clear is that Ragyo uses queerness as an illusion to mask the heinousness of her actions and further her goals. She doesn’t use it for love or any expression of being a marginalized person overcoming oppressive social structures–she uses it for the antithesis of what it’s all meant to stand for in the first place. So, I only discuss Ragyo here to begin unpacking how her entire modus operandi is misappropriation.

 

Everyone else

I headcannon many of the other characters as ace (Satsuki, Inamura, Kinase, to name a few). Kill la Kill’s story is so focused on everyone fighting each other, fighting against the Kiryuin family, and fighting against the Life Fibers that orientation really isn’t important. Nonnon’s feelings toward Satsuki could just be the feelings of dedicated friendship or she could be in love with her (I ship it, so there’s that). The series doesn’t give too much attention to their relationship; however I’d classify Nonnon’s attitude toward Satsuki as similar to Mako’s attitude toward Ryuko. Both are dedicated to their respective best friends/love interests for the long-term no matter what.

Finally, I’ve entertained the thought of Senketsu being trans since he is technically female clothing with a male voice. The implications of Senketsu being trans are beyond what I feel I can analyze and formulate an opinion about, but at the very least, no one in KLK ever questions why a set of women’s clothing has any bit of masculinity attached to it. As with queerness (orientation), queerness (gender) seems to be something that is simply accepted in the world of KLK, even though it doesn’t overtly deal with the gender spectrum.

 

Concluding thoughts

Kill la Kill presents several different manifestations of queerness, some good and healthy and others concerned more with power than love/dignity toward the other person. When queerness is overt, it’s never contested or questioned. It’s quite normalized, which is important for representation. What becomes questionable is not queerness itself, but how each character expresses it, which says more about the right/wrong way to treat others in general rather than defining queerness as a particular type of expression.

What I’ve outlined here is certainly not exhaustive–what do you think of Kill la Kill’s queer characters? I’d love to hear about any thoughts on asexual or transgender representation (or lack thereof).


 

Next week: Girlhood and Magical Uniforms: Coming of Age in Kill la Kill

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11 thoughts on “Queer la Queer: From Illogical Dedication to Misappropriation

  1. Quite frankly, I might say I find it quite horrifying that Ryuko and Mako’s relationship has become such a popular example of a “healthy” relationship.

    “Horrifying,” of course, is quite a big word with quite a big meaning, so it’s likely not an entirely accurate summation of my feelings, but I will say that the essence behind it still rings true. Painting Ryumako as undeniably “healthy” scares me.

    What’s become something of a favorite quote of mine is David Wong’s, “But remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.” Why? Because it emphasizes what I think is the most important aspect of any healthy relationship: respect. Complete dismissal is disrespectful, but so is blind adoration, and both are dehumanizing. Neither are the foundation of a lasting, healthy, positive romance, and both are evident in the Ryumako relationship in troubling amounts.

    To Ryuko, Mako is certainly someone precious—a beloved friend that she’s determined to protect, and someone she cares about so deeply that Ryuko herself struggles to find the right words to describe it. Simultaneously, however, Mako is also someone Ryuko hardly respects nor trusts. So much of their narrative features Ryuko outright undermining Mako’s abilities, with Ryuko constantly telling Mako to go home, to stay out of the fight, and in one instance, she even offers snacks to make sure Mako doesn’t get involved.

    Of course, it’s common in superhero and shounen fiction to have scenes where Hero is worried for Lover and warns to stay away from them, or stay out of it, and all these sorts of things that this genre has seen time and time again. And sometimes, it may very well be fair—Lover has no skill in battle, and being together with Hero is indeed very dangerous and they should stay out of it. But Mako is markedly different here in that she is a perfectly competent ally and has a lot to offer in battle—a fact explicitly made clear in episode 23, when Mako regains the Fight Club uniform and much of the cast is in awe of her abilities. She can fight and she is capable, but Ryuko only really starts seeing that around episode 22 when she realizes just how much Mako means to her, and even then, she still tries to talk Mako out of the final battle come episode 23.

    Further, though it is admittedly rather subjective, these scenes of Ryuko shooing Mako away aren’t treated romantically. Ryuko is annoyed at Mako in a manner that is far more akin to a worried mother trying to protect her wild, uncontrollable daughter. This is particularly clear in episode 17 with Ryuko’s promise of snacks if Mako stays out of it. That’s definitely not something Hero would say to Lover, but rather something said to keep a little kid out of trouble, thereby highlighting just how little Ryuko respects and trusts Mako. The Gamako pair has received a lot of criticism, but in the following episode, Gamagoori trusts Mako to evacuate the students, something that Ryuko does not find Mako capable of. Mako herself is shocked that Gamagoori wants her to do this, and that’s because she’s so incredibly used to everyone underestimating her—even her very best friend Ryuko.

    From this, it’s pretty clear that Ryuko often dismisses Mako in ways that are unfair, unhealthy, and disrespectful. There are many ways for this relationship to keep growing and become something very healthy and mutually beneficial and sweet and kind, but as it’s presented in the series? It’s most certainly not there yet, and it’s scary to advertise it as though it is.

    As for Mako, her fangirling over Ryuko veers dangerously close to blind adoration and worship—that is, if it’s not already there. In the episode 21 wedding-crashing scene, we see that she values Ryuko above her own life, willing to throw that away rather than live in a world where Ryuko isn’t herself. Romantic movies are no stranger to depicting these sorts of scenarios as sweet, but the reality points to a dangerous dependence and a level of idolizing that is most definitely not cute, not romantic, and not healthy.

    Yet, I hesitate to say that Mako wholly worships Ryuko, because Mako is willing to point out Ryuko’s faults and flaws, which shows—at least to an extent—that Mako sees Ryuko as a flawed human being rather than a mystical goddess on a pedestal. Still, moving away from the “dismissing/idolizing” dichotomy presented by David Wong’s quote, Mako has a great many instances of completely disrespecting Ryuko in other ways.

    I have no intention of delving too deeply into the notorious “canon” debate, but when defending Ryumako as canon, an argument often posed is that, had Ryuko and Mako been a heterosexual couple, no one would be denying them as canon. I completely disagree, but more importantly, let me present a counter argument: if Mako had been male, Ryumako would not be so commonly accepted as healthy.

    Why? Because Mako constantly invades Ryuko’s personal space, makes her incredibly uncomfortable, and touches her without her consent. This becomes downright sexual harassment in some of the “Mako Theatre” moments, with Mako groping Ryuko’s breasts in episode 3 and removing her bra in episode 5, all clearly without Ryuko’s permission, and all clearly in ways that bring her discomfort. I’d like to argue these sequences aren’t truly happening, but the fact remains that these instances are seen in fandom as “funny,” as “cute,” as “love,” when, had a man committed these same acts upon Ryuko, he’d be highly vilified. In fact, Aikuro Mikisugi is criticized for similar behavior, yet Mako is rarely called out herself, and when she is, it’s met with much confusion and even anger from lovers of her character.

    Even the famed kiss is also highly nonconsensual on Ryuko’s part. She’s pulling her lips away, with her eyes wide and surprised, and is most definitely not showing any love or pleasure at the gesture. Yet, this moment is hailed as something very romantic and positive, regardless of Ryuko’s discomfort. Had a man done the same thing, I am certain this would not be the case—in fact, I can think of two examples from the Avatar series where it wasn’t. In the original series, Aang kisses Katara and she pulls away at one point near the end of the show, and he was criticized for this. In the spin-off Korra, Bolin kisses the actress Ginger without her consent and he was highly criticized for this. Ryuko and Mako both being girls does not make nonconsensual, uncomfortable kisses somehow “romantic” in the slightest.

    Moving away from the “Mako Theatre” moments, Mako also shows this same disregard for Ryuko’s wishes and personal space outside of these silly sequences. Namely, I’ll look to the motorcycle scenes in episodes 8 and 17—one of which is featured right here on this post. These both involve Mako grabbing onto Ryuko without her consent and forcing Ryuko to take her along by acting cutely stubborn. It’s absolutely disrespectful, and had a man done it instead, I’m sure it’d be seen as such.

    This is all very long, and negative, so let me take a moment to explain why this is so important to me. I was in a relationship once with a man—a boy, really—who treated me similarly to how Mako does to Ryuko. He touched me when and where I didn’t want him to, lifted my skirts in public to stare at my ass, groped my breasts in plain sight. After I broke it off with him, I truly realized how much respect matters in relationships. He showered me with gifts, adored me as though I was a perfect goddess, but he never respected me, my space, or my time. Seeing Mako treat Ryuko in similar ways and have it be hailed as healthy is something I find so absolutely damaging. To have queer girls—or anyone!—thinking that this is what a romantic relationship should look like and that this is positive representation I can only see as hurtful.

    Again, however, it’s not as though the relationship doesn’t have room to grow. The two care deeply for one another, and by the end, I think their relationship has a lot of potential to become romantic one day as Ryuko learns to trust and respect Mako, and as Mako learns to respect Ryuko and her desires. I’m happy for anyone who identifies with the two and sees their relationship going that way. But to write off unhealthy behaviors as healthy is completely distressing, and when it comes to Kill la Kill, to treat the Ryuko/Mako relationship as the one most positive and crucial to the show’s narrative I find almost insulting.

    As mentioned, this is not a romance. Scriptwriter Kazuki Nakashima confirmed this himself at a panel at Anime Expo, saying, “THERE IS NO ROOM FOR LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS IN KILL LA KILL. However, many fans seem to desire that, so it is up to the fans to create that.” Later, he mentioned, “I will say that there’s no love interest, and I wanted to make a form of intimacy that transcends love and species. It’s about friendship.”
    (Source: http://nharime.tumblr.com/post/90923453499/from-the-anime-expo-kill-la-kill-panel-with-sushio )

    Author is Dead is a concept with value, of course; I’ve heard the creator of Madoka wrote off any romance as well, but goodness knows I’ll always argue that Homura most certainly harbors some sort of romantic attraction towards Madoka. What you make of a work is “right” in your own regard, so long as you can back that up with evidence and reasoning. All that said, however, Nakashima’s statement is one that I agree with and one that I see a lot of logic behind.

    First of all, Mako is most definitely not the only person who can calm Ryuko, and most definitely not her only “anchor and peace.” To say this is a massive disservice not only Senketsu’s character, but also to what I—and Nakashima—would argue that this show is all about: friendship, and “a form of intimacy that transcends love and species.” Mako and Ryuko’s relationship is significant, certainly, but it takes a backseat to Ryuko and Senketsu’s… which, as you mentioned yourself, may also very well be considered queer, and of the two, their relationship also comes off as much healthier. Ryuko and Senketsu have a great amount of trust—they have to to work so well in battle together—and they also deeply respect one another, always quick to defend the other, and actively communicating their fears and thoughts and concerns.

    To say that “Mako is the only one who can reach Ryuko’s heart” is an absolutely baffling concept to me because Ryuko is consistently shown opening up so much to Senketsu, from the ironing scene in episode 6 depicting her tender side before she shows this to Mako, to the scene in the intro of episode 7 that has her revealing details about her past to Senketsu before she repeats the same information to both him and Mako in episode 8, to Ryuko revealing all her fears to Senketsu in episodes 13 and 17.

    In fact, Mako herself expresses on multiple occasions that Ryuko and Senketsu have a closeness that she and Ryuko don’t. “Senketsu isn’t your only friend!” she says in episode 5, and in the original Japanese version, she repeats this sentiment in episode 8. Episode 17 has her blatantly saying that Ryuko wears Senketsu because she “loves him best!,” clearly meant “like that” with the focus on full nudity that this speech entails that would be inappropriate in any other relationship. In the OVA, she compares the two of them to soulmates.

    Similarly, it’s worth mentioning here that Mako is not the only one who Ryuko is shown calming around, either. She’s calm around her newfound family and reminders of this family, as seen when she admires the lunch Sukuyo made her in the start of the Naturals Election arc. She’s calm around Senketsu as well, as in the aforementioned ironing scene and introduction to episode 7. She’s calm around her friends and family and those she feels comfortable with, fitting the theme of friendship that the show is allegedly aiming for.

    Senketsu’s comment about Mako calming Ryuko down is in no way meant to imply that Mako is the only one who holds this power. Largely, it works as foreshadowing. When Senketsu, the one whom Mako herself says is the one “Ryuko loves more than anything on the planet!,” is overtaken by Ryuko’s rage, who is the only other person who can help her out? Mako, of course.

    In this instance, Mako has quite a process of slapping Ryuko out of it, a process Senketsu didn’t have the time for. Mako is left as the only one who can save her, and Senketsu’s comment foreshadows this. Moving on to episode 21, viewers see that both Mako and Senketsu have the power to calm and save Ryuko, as both are present and crucial to breaking Ryuko free from Junketsu’s brainwashing. Senketsu’s “bit of sacrifice” isn’t included for no reason, and it may even be argued that it’s hurting Senketsu—not Mako—that ultimately snaps Ryuko free, as she only stops after she’s drenched in blood after striking him down with her blade. Regardless, however, Senketsu plays a critical role here, which Ryuko explicitly states in the following episode when she proclaims that both Senketsu and Mako are more than friends to her.

    This is such an interesting moment, because in your standard shounen fare, this would undoubtedly be a love confession. Kill la Kill is utterly refreshing in that here, it’s not. Ryuko’s expressing her great love for both her best friends, ultimately signifying that a relationship doesn’t have to be romantic in order to be important—a much-needed narrative in today’s media that’s become over-saturated with tacked-on love stories.

    Finally, this idea of “radical, illogical, and nonsensical love [overcoming] oppressive systems” is a good one, and very fitting for Kill la Kill, but Ryuko and Mako’s love is hardly the prime example of this. Nothing about their bond I find particularly nonsensical at all, in truth; Mako wanting to stay by Ryuko’s side in Osaka makes complete sense, as Ryuko is a warrior, armed, and ready to protect her, and not killing your best friend isn’t illogical so much as it’s humane.

    But Ryuko and Senketsu? It’s a talking uniform and a human girl. It’s absolutely ridiculous, illogical, radical. Tsumugu can’t believe they’re friends in episode 5. Satsuki calls it a “fairytale” in episode 15 for them to have a symbiotic relationship. Senketsu himself becomes terrified in episode 16 that he’ll only hurt Ryuko, as the Life Fibers he was borne from see humans as nothing more than food, and thus their kind and loving relationship should be impossible. The final battle has both Ryuko and Senketsu outright declaring that they’re nonsensical, and it’s the bond the two of them share that allows them to win. The whole series features their development, and both the OVA and episode 24 end with a focus on their relationship. Their relationship is so incredibly crucial, heartfelt, compelling… and also so incredibly ignored.

    I don’t know if Ryuko and Senketsu should be considered a queer relationship. “Trans” doesn’t seem the right word to label Senketsu as, however, as “trans” refers to a gender identity separate from assigned sex, and Life Fibers can be assumed to be absolutely sexless, as they reproduce asexually. Being a feminine outfit means nothing in regards to his sex, though it could very well mean something in regards to his gender. Does Senketsu see himself as female? Male? Genderless? Genderfluid? It’s a question that’s never delved into in the series proper, and definitely an interesting question to explore.

    Regardless of whether or not their relationship is queer, however, the prejudice Senketsu receives may easily be analogous to that narrative. He’s regarded as a monster and constantly devalues himself, always surprised and emotional when Ryuko calls him a friend and reminds him of how much he means to her. In the end, he realizes he has worth, that he’s human, too, and is able to break through Absolute Submission because of this. Meanwhile, Ryuko is embarrassed to be seen with him initially due to society’s standards, but she realizes that he means more to her than any of that. Episode 3 has her opening her heart up to him, proving her desire to get to know him and be his partner no matter what anyone else thinks of this. These feelings remain all throughout the series, from Ryuko defending Senketsu with her life in episodes 5 and 17, to her resolutely telling Satsuki that she and Senketsu are “two in one” in episode 15. No matter what anyone says, Ryuko and Senketsu love each other, and it is this love that allows them to put an end to Ragyo’s cruel, oppressive system more than any other.

    Yes, it’s all fantasy, with a fantastical alien species, in an anime that’s utterly ridiculous, over-the-top, and tends not to take itself too seriously, and having real-world equivalents is hardly the same as actively showing these real-world issues on the screen. I understand. Still, that doesn’t stop the relationship between Ryuko and Senketsu from being hard-hitting, from being something important, from being something healthy and positive to see on television. And it definitely doesn’t stop it from being absolutely disappointing when this relationship is covered up, ignored, and forgotten.

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    1. First of all, I want to thank you for composing such a thoughtful comment and taking the time to not only read my post, but also articulate your thoughts so thoroughly. Your counterarguments to my admittedly glowing praise are ones that I’ve seen elsewhere, so I do know that they’re out there being discussed, though perhaps not as prominently as the blind shipping praise.

      Re: Ryuko’s dismissal of Mako throughout the series. It exists, sure. Ryuko definitely underestimates Mako and Mako, fortunately, breaks out of those sidelined character expectations, though it may not fully hit Ryuko until very late in the series. However, I think there’s one much earlier instance where Ryuko’s dismissal/underestimation is challenged and shows that Ryuko actually trusts Mako immensely: episode 7 when Mako first gets her Fight Club uniform. Ryuko, whose instinct is to always fight back and defend herself, gives up and just lets Mako beat her up. She has to trust that Mako will eventually come to her senses and not kill her, even though there’s no certainty that she will. I read this fight as an example of Ryuko humbling herself and really going against her natural instincts. Though she has a history of running away from fights to protect herself/her dignity (first episode), here, she doesn’t run away, but also refuses to see Mako as an enemy she must defeat. One could say that she’s even dismissing Mako here and thinking that Mako isn’t powerful enough to actually kill her, but earlier in the fight, I think Ryuko does realize that Mako is a formidable opponent. If I’m remembering the details of the battle correctly, Ryuko has a hard enough time defending against Mako’s attacks and acknowledges her strength. The dynamic doesn’t seem to change much after this episode and again, but maybe it’s a seed that leads to the full realization you mentioned later on.
      We seem to read the shooing/protective scenes differently and that’s fine, but I think it’s possible for lovers to have such interactions. They might be wrong and signs of immaturity, but they can still be romantic. I think Ryuko’s reasons for trying to keep Mako out of the way are more to protect someone she loves in the only way she knows how rather than to keep someone she doesn’t trust or respect out of the battles. I don’t sense that Ryuko ever thinks Mako’s involvement would make her fights worse or would place an unnecessary burden on her. This is obviously conjecture, but I think of how Ryuko’s father died–how she got home too late and couldn’t protect or save him. As far as we know, Ryuko didn’t meet anyone else afterward who could care for her or call her family until she meets the Mankanshoku family. Of course, she doesn’t have the best relationship with her father, but it’s obvious how much he loves her because his death is the catalyst for the entire narrative. I think in Ryuko’s mind, she doesn’t want the same thing to happen to another person she loves (Mako), hence her tendency to keep Mako out of the fray. This doesn’t mean that this behavior is fair to Mako or even an accurate response to what Mako is or isn’t capable of, but I don’t think it comes from a place where Ryuko doesn’t respect or trust Mako (yet that’s how it can come across). Also, I’m not sure if Mako’s hallelujah speeches would work as well as they do if Ryuko didn’t take them seriously on some level. Mako tends to state the situation in a way that Ryuko didn’t see before and Ryuko often listens to that. That doesn’t strike me as dismissive.

      I said in the post, though it may not be as clear as it should be, that Ryumako is the healthiest relationship in the show, the keywords being “in the show.” Kill la Kill is full of much unhealthier relationships. If I had to point to an exemplar of a healthy queer relationship, it would be Korrasami, hands down. Ryuko and Mako need to mature a bit to deepen their relationship, but I think there are hints of that in the last scene of the OVA.

      Re: Mako’s idolization of Ryuko. Yes, there are ways in which that’s true. She’s an immature, naïve, and stubborn girl. It takes a lot of growing and self-discovery to not idolize people you have a crush on and Mako hasn’t gotten over the honeymoon phase. I don’t know if you’ve read my other posts, but I have a particular theological reading of that scene in episode 21. The more personal relationship reading I use here lends itself to depicting overdependence.

      Re: Ryumako not being as widely accepted as healthy if Mako were male. Absolutely. Queer female relationships are so borderline nonexistent that we take breadcrumbs and never ask for an entire loaf. We tend to think that women and girls aren’t capable of sexually harassing or abusing each other, which is a larger societal problem that feeds into readings of pairings like Ryumako. To not acknowledge that Ryumako is problematic and that Kill la Kill in general is problematic is disingenuous. As much as I love Mako’s character and Ryumako, both have their issues. I also ship Tyzula, fully recognizing that it’s a very broken relationship and not at all something to strive for, yet still something that can grow and be healed.
      One of my general reactions to Kill la Kill that I didn’t see a good place to fit in the topics/scope of these posts is that as much as I love the story and the characters, I would not write anything like it. What I mean is that I wouldn’t have skimpy battle uniforms, nor would I write a queer relationship where a character treats their love interest as Mako treats Ryuko. I wouldn’t have the Senketsu-type character assault the protagonist like it’s no big deal, nor would I pass off behavior like Mikisugi’s as a funny joke. While I can find deeper connections or reasons for many of these things to exist in the series, I wouldn’t actually put those elements in my own work, or if I did I wouldn’t present them in the same light. I’m actually working on a series of posts about what writers can learn from the writing/story/structure elements in Kill la Kill, so I could expound on this there.

      Re: your personal experience. This is invaluable and valid. I had a friend in the same situation during college. Queer representation needs to be better, and I’ve expounded on that in another post I made mostly about Sakura Trick. In general, most of my queer ships, including my favorites, have something missing or unhealthy. Again, Korrasami comes the closest to perfection for me and my personal standards.

      Re: Senketsu. Though I didn’t delve into his character here, I also didn’t mean to elevate Mako’s importance to Ryuko and diminish Senketsu’s. In other words, just because I only discussed Ryumako in depth in this post doesn’t mean I’ve dismissed Senketsu. I can see how my suggestion that Mako is Ryuko’s “anchor and peace” can imply that Senketsu isn’t, but Ryuko does say that whatever she feels for Mako and Senketsu is more than just friendship. Of course he’s important. However, I don’t think that Ryuko and Senketsu’s relationship is that much healthier than Ryumako, if we’re pointing fingers. Both are guilty of sexually assaulting Ryuko and acting on her without consent. I explain this more in depth in this post: https://taylorramage.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/girlhood-and-magical-uniforms-coming-of-age-in-kill-la-kill/ Certainly, Ryuko and Senketsu are more open with each other, and I actually conceptualized their relationship/nature in theological terms here: https://taylorramage.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/you-pigs-in-human-clothing-a-theology-of-clothing-in-kill-la-kill/
      I take a more positive reading and say that Ryuko and Senketsu’s relationship becomes healthier/deeper as the show progresses. Same with Ryumako. They might not progress on the same levels, but they progress and both are vital sources of support for Ryuko. It would likely be fair of me to expand on this in another post.

      Re: When Ryuko feels calm/how many people calm her. Fair enough. The show presents Mako and Senketsu as the main catalysts for Ryuko’s calm, but it’s true that there are other sources. Also, see my theology of clothing post for an in depth reading of Senketsu’s sacrifice. In no way do I dismiss it or take it lightly.

      Re: Kill la Kill refreshingly breaking away from the shonen mold. Absolutely, and one of the things I do like about the show is that romance really isn’t a key part of the narrative because literally no one has time for it.

      Re: Ryuko and Senketsu’s/ Ryuko and Mako’s illogical, nonsensical relationships. Again, I’ll point to my other posts, but I do think I can expand on Senketsu. I have a post planned that delves more deeply into episode 24 and the OVA (was going to make it part of these initial reactions, but I don’t think I’d articulate it as well without a rewatch, which I’m currently doing via Toonami). That post will certainly cover the things you mentioned here. So many other elements jumped out at me that, frankly, by the time I finished the “Kill la Kyriarchy” post, I was exhausted. I’ve mentioned several times here and elsewhere that these initial posts won’t be the last thoughts I have about the series. There’s always more to add and I think Kill la Kill lends itself to a multitude of interpretations.
      Re: trans!Senketsu? I had the same thoughts. It’s not something that’s brought up and probably not something the creators thought about much. At the very least, I think there’s a sense that whatever Senketsu is doesn’t neatly fit into the structures of the world, which is something I talk about in other posts. There are a multitude of trans narratives, but the connections you make to the ones about isolation and social stigmas are very interesting.

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      1. Thank you for your response. My love for Kill la Kill is as illogical and nonsensical as the series itself, and I’m always happy to discuss it.

        On Ryuko’s dismissal of Mako: In my opinion, I believe that Ryuko and Mako’s fight in episode 7 gets far too romanticized. This sequence features Mako literally coming to terms with the fact that she may very well have murdered her best friend, and all for something that’s comparatively incredibly, horribly shallow—money. It is no great display of trust to trust your best friend not to kill you for cash; as I mentioned in my previous response, it’s simply humane. All this shows to me is that Ryuko regards Mako as a human being with a conscious and morals.

        I would be more inclined to agree with the argument that Ryuko simply wants to protect Mako and nothing more when she shoos Mako away from the fight if it weren’t for how Ryuko treats other characters in the series. Ryuko also deeply loves Senketsu, and the narrative includes a recurring nightmare of hers where he’s being torn to bits, thereby exemplifying this idea you bring up of how she’s absolutely terrified of losing another loved one as she did her father. Yet, Ryuko still actively trusts and respects Senketsu as a battle partner, and the only time she tells him to stay out of it is because so much of the rest of the cast isn’t respecting him as she does.

        Though their relationship is just getting started on a positive level, I’d also make an argument for Satsuki. Family means an incredible amount to Ryuko, and by the time of the sister reveal, I’d say Ryuko was already exhibiting a sort of begrudging respect for her. Being blood sisters definitely helps increase Ryuko’s fondness towards Satsuki more quickly, and it’s clear that Ryuko would hate to see a new family member be torn away from her, and yet, again, Ryuko completely trusts and respects Satsuki as a battle partner and never once shoos her away from the fight.

        Her behavior towards Mako, then, I can see only as utterly dismissive and disrespectful. She clearly loves other characters—and with Senketsu, we even see a repeated fear of losing him—yet she always respects and trusts their abilities while she doesn’t offer the same level of respect towards Mako.

        I don’t mean to say that Ryuko absolutely and completely dismisses her—that’d be ridiculous. I simply argue that she doesn’t trust nor respect Mako on levels that I would remotely consider “healthy.”

        On healthiness: Yes, Kill la Kill is full of much unhealthier relationships than Ryumako, but I think it’s absolutely disingenuous and damaging to write it off as the healthiest in the show when it has so many problems. Plenty of relationships in the series come off as healthier, from Satsuki’s familial relationship with her butler Mitsuzo Soroi, to Shiro and Houka’s respectful and friendly relationship—I’d definitely even argue that the much maligned Gamako pairing is far healthier than Ryumako, and yes, I’d say that Ryuko and Senketsu’s relationship is as well.

        I’ve written exhaustively about Ryuko and Senketsu’s terrible first encounter myself, but for simplicity’s sake, I will attempt to sum up my thoughts briefly here. Essentially, I find it incredibly unfair to compare Mako’s harassment of Ryuko to Senketsu’s, as Senketsu’s first scene is massively against his character and everything he stands for, he never does anything remotely like it again, and he is clearly not himself nor in his right state of mind when it occurs. Mako, meanwhile, is completely in her right mind when she harasses Ryuko, and these acts are repeated offenses. It absolutely doesn’t make Senketsu’s behavior excusable in the slightest, but it doesn’t strike me as nearly as troubling as Mako’s behavior, because, as mentioned, it’s completely contrary to who he is and his behavior for the entire rest of the series. This first scene is also compelling from a narrative standpoint because I’d argue it represents everything Senketsu’s afraid of—namely, being a monster that will only hurt Ryuko, whom he cares about deeply and whom hurting is his last wish. Perhaps that is a discussion for another time, however.

        I apologize if I come off as pointing fingers, but I’m so incredibly disturbed at Ryumako being paraded as unambiguously healthy and the only “good point” of Kill la Kill whilst Ryuko and Senketsu’s relationship is completely glossed over and ignored when it’s much more crucial to the narrative (I lean towards the reading that it’s very much the heart of the show) and is—in my mind, at least—far less problematic and such a wonderful relationship to see grow on the television screen. Often supporting Ryumako leads to completely dismissing Senketsu’s significance and therefore so much of the show’s plot, and I again apologize if I was misreading your intent, but advertising Mako “as the only thing that calms Ryuko down” absolutely takes away from his importance to Ryuko and the narrative even if that’s not what’s intended.

        In all, I understand the struggle for more LGBTQ stories in media. I’ve written drafts of novels and short stories starring queer girls myself for so many reasons, and you can bet that one of those is that I so desperately want to see more narratives like that out there. But to take a concerning pairing like Ryumako and treat it as the embodiment of healthy that Kill la Kill has to offer is both counterproductive and rather scary. It will take so much longer to move forward if we’re blindly praising what should not be blindly praised.

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      2. Well then! Once again, you’ve raised some good, important points, and I think we could easily go back and forth, clarifying our understandings of x and why we are or aren’t seeing it in the show. I’m not one to deny gaps in my own interpretation of things, especially something like Kill la Kill. I know you’ve already written a lot here and you mention some other writing about the show that you’ve done, but would you be interested in writing a guest post for this blog? I’d add a link to this post (and vice versa) to make it clear they’re connected and everything. I’d also be happy to link to your other writings or blog/social media accounts in this post itself if you’re okay with that. Or, if you don’t want to do either, I’ll at least add a note to this one directing future readers to this discussion we’ve had so they know to check it out.

        As I mentioned before, I think I can definitely add another post of my own that focuses on Senketsu in some way (though it may not be the same as your interpretation–not contradictory, but not quite the same angle), but I’m pacing myself with writing these kinds of essays on this series to give myself a break and also let my thoughts grow while just keeping up with the Toonami airings once a week. All that’s to say that if you did want to write a guest post, you’d have “dibs,” so to speak, on the ideas/angles you want to take. The only idea I’d hesitate on okaying is trans!Senketsu unless you yourself are trans simply because I’d rather leave that space for a trans person to weigh in on if they happen to read this and want to write about it or something.

        Anyway, let me know if you’re interested and then we can discuss the details via email. You can find my email in the right side bar near the top of any page on my blog.

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  2. I dont think that Mako and Ryuko relationship is unhealthy even as friends. However they both have different personalities. Ryuko from the very beginning is a very loan wolf and does not want assistance from anyone. She says this several times in the beginning. “No I will do this by myself, I will avenge my father on my own, This is my fight go away”. I dont think her not wanting Mako to fight has anything at all to do with MAKO but with Ryuko personality.

    Ryuko seems to take all burdens on herself and seems to believe its her job to do everything herself. She does not want help from friends and family since its her job to protect them. She does not want Mako involved since its her mission to avenge her father. Ryuko is very stubborn, introverted, and very bitter in the beginning of the series. She does care about people but she not one to readily show it. She also has a lot more shame and pride than her friend. Mako is supportive, shameless, and totally stubborn. She will say whats on her mind and she is going to tag along with her Best friend no matter what since she has to be there to support her all the way to the end.

    Ryuko is very angry in the beginning of the show and really doesn’t grieve. So this entire show is Ryuko getting over the death of her dad and trying to figure out why. Her friends have to get Ryuko to chill out every once in awhile since shes so high strung. Ryuko eventually learns to accept herself and who she is and I think learns to depend on other people. Which she doesnt seem to really do.

    The entire series its her trying to save everyone. Mako is not useless but its Ryuko job, everyone counts on Ryuko, everyone thinks shes going save the day.. and that kind of seems like the type of personality she has. She has to take care of everyone and she has to fix everything and avenge her father on her own. She does seem to have a big heart but her type of personality doesnt really know how to show it.

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